Can e-learning be done differently? Action Mapping Methodology

September 17, 2019 Aneta Stokes

With her Action Mapping, Cathy Moore pulverizes the statues of the e-learning world around us, which we probably all suspect to be fake. When I came across her blog a few years ago, I couldn’t believe that I’d spent so long wearing anti-user glasses, translating All Available Materials into Attractive and Interactive Slides. with a passion and growing skill. Suddenly, someone is bravely saying that that’s not what this should be about. And she says it convincingly.

The old school is rusting

Does your job require ordering e-learning courses from a supplier from time to time? The scenario of this process most likely looks more or less like this: You start by determining what information should be included in the course. You find the person who put this information into a PowerPoint presentation, taking particular care to include everything that’s important and — just to be safe — less important. You meet a provider who calculates how your PowerPoint slides will translate into screens, tempting you to embellish everything with interactivity to engage the participants, which starts and ends with clicking and dragging. Then you both put everything together and after just a few months, your organization’s employees can splash around in a new font of knowledge any time they like.

If you create training for different clients, you know the other side of this scenario. You receive a file of ready-made materials from the client, and a message that the purpose of the training is to provide all employees with all the knowledge on the subject. Over the years, you have acquired a lot of skill in editing heavy definitions and weaving them into the narrator’s dialogs and comments. You know which icon is the best to illustrate insurance and which one is the best to represent law. When checking terms, you reach for drag & drop, and when checking the exclusions lists, you use “mark the correct one.” You can make up the wrong answers and the feedback: “Wrong answer, try again” practically inserts itself. You implement the customer’s remarks obediently without asking either the business purpose or the problem the training is supposed to solve. What’s important is that the information is provided, and that test results are recorded on the platform.

Cathy Moore says: sit down, D-minus

According to Cathy Moore, the result of this action is a product that’s overloaded with unnecessary information and which doesn’t suit anybody. “All employees” will pass the test, forgetting the information even before they do. Blocking access to subsequent screens won’t force them to take an interest in a topic that hasn’t been tailored to their needs. Graphically elaborate but infantile in terms of content, “three time’s a charm” interaction, which in no way tells them how to solve their everyday problems, will annoy them at best. So, isn’t it worth giving them something more?

Identify the problem, set a goal

The recipe for something more served by Cathy Moore is as follows:

Ingredients: 1 portion of a properly identified problem to be addressed by the training course; 1 measurable objective resulting from the problem; a handful of actions (activities) that participants should take to address the problem; a handful of examples that show these activities in practice; a pinch of the information needed (use sparingly to avoid indigestion).


1. Whether you are ordering a training course for your organization or you are a supplier, you must first identify the problem the course will solve. A kick-off meeting, where both stakeholders meet, is a perfect opportunity to do that. Sometimes, at the beginning the problem isn’t considered at all. It’s just: “We have a new product, we need a training course.” “The law requires it, we need a training course.” However, it’s worth taking a closer look at the subject: why do our employees need to know this product? If they sell it, how does it work? Do they have any problems with this sale? Where are the gaps and what do they result from? If Anna, a customer advisor, can easily find the product description in the brochure on her desk, maybe the training doesn’t have to present the description in detail once again? Maybe instead it should only tell her how to react to the objections of a customer who has not been swept off their feet by this description?

2. If we manage to identify a problem that needs to be solved, it should result in a measurable objective to be achieved by means of training. Increasing sales by 5%? Reducing the number of complaints by 4%? Cathy Moore advises not to be afraid of specific numbers when setting a goal. Even if the actual result is less satisfactory, at least we know where we measure our ambitions.

Designing an activity — practical e-learning

The presentation of long definitions and theories in colorful slides doesn’t support the learning process in any way, even when recited by David Attenborough himself. The advantage of an e-learning course lies elsewhere: in such courses we’re able to pose any number of scenarios where the participants can practice the correct behavior. So, why not focus on this, using the theory only as an addition?

These situations, called “activities” by Cathy Moore, are the axis of training, its skeleton. They should take us the most time to design. It’s here that we should use the help of an expert and knowledge of the needs and problems of the training course’s participants.

If the course is about a product that is offered, for example, by a bank, and the problem we identified at the first meeting is low sales of the product in the full package, the activities should answer the question “what does the salesperson have to do in order to make the product in the full package interesting to the customer?” Be able to skillfully present the benefits? Select good examples? Properly respond to price objections? After creating such a list (definitely in cooperation with an expert), all we have to do is to translate the activity into decision-making scenarios in which participants can practice it.

Realistic, without being infantile

Decision-making scenes are realistic examples of the desired activities. For a participant to find them interesting and inspiring, the action doesn’t have to take place in space or on a deserted island. On the contrary, it should reflect the reality of the user. The characters in the scenes should be people in similar positions to them, with similar challenges and tasks. The most important thing is that the situation itself is real, presenting a problem that can actually happen, and allowing the participant to practice the correct response, with the confidence that it’ll be useful.

To top it all off, preferably at the end — we only add important information, and indicate where to look for the rest. Because information is just an addition, and the participant is independent enough to be able to search for it if they need it. The training offers something more.

Benefits on the table

Cathy Moore assures us: participants who are given a training course prepared according to the Action Mapping recipe are guaranteed a good experience. They don’t have to wade through heavy masses of information to find what they actually need. What they get is mainly practice, tailored to their needs, without fireworks or long definitions. By the way, isn’t it true that when creating a course, we often spend most of our time and money on fireworks and long definitions? Cathy Moore advises that this stream should be directed in a completely different direction. Shall we give it a try?


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